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AFT Resolutions


WHEREAS, the AFT has a long record of supporting innovative programs to promote and enhance the professional development and career prospects of its members; and

WHEREAS, in many of the labor markets in which our members work, performance demands, skill requirements and professional knowledge standards are increasing at breathtaking speed; and

WHEREAS, research and feedback from members tell us that programs designed to meet their personal and career aspirations are of increasing importance to them; and

WHEREAS, in the context of this challenge, the AFT, with the support from the Albert Shanker Institute, began to investigate the British experience with "union learning representatives" (ULRs), an innovative approach to union-driven learning. Over the course of the past six years, the AFT and the Institute have brought leaders from each AFT division to the U.K. to look at this "learning and skills agenda," which was itself developed and implemented over a 20-year period by members of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British equivalent to our AFL-CIO; and

WHEREAS, AFT leaders visited worksites, talked to elected leaders, union staff, and rank-and-file members who were either involved in the skills agenda or whose lives had been touched and improved by the program. During these trips and consultations, AFT leaders began to consider how to adapt these British programs for use with the people the AFT represents and seeks to organize, including: preK-12 professionals, paraprofessionals, support personnel, nurses, public employees, and those who work for post-secondary educational institutions; and

WHEREAS, at its August 5, 2008, meeting, the AFL-CIO Executive Council passed a statement that included the following language among its "recommendations for action" at the national level: "Assist employers and unions in developing subsidized on-site learning representatives who can help employees with career counseling and access to training needs;" and

WHEREAS, the British learning model (1) creates a national, union-led system of worksite-based union learning representatives; (2) embeds learning and organizing into mainstream union activities; and (3) provides a coherent, structured union program in partnership with employers and education providers from the workplace to the national level; and

WHEREAS, ULRs, the linchpin of the program, (1) survey members' learning needs and brokers learning services (including professional development from all sources, apprenticeships, computer training, distance learning, etc.); (2) are selected, trained, and certified by the union; and (3) are part of a worksite union team that responds to members' educational needs; and

WHEREAS, in the UK, the learning agenda has developed new types of secondary leaders who (1) find courses, programs, and other sources of knowledge and skill up-grading for members; (2) reach and engage new members, including younger employees and underserved populations with an expanded, member-driven education agenda; and (3) widen the coverage and scope of collective bargaining to include additional education services;

WHEREAS, the AFT officers selected three pilot sites where local leaders felt they could introduce their own variant of a union learning representative into their operations, with cooperation from employers. The AFT's pilot sites are: the Baltimore Teachers Union; District 219, North Suburban Teachers Union, Illinois; Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Professionals; and

WHEREAS, these affiliates are developing materials on what learning resources their learning reps should be able to use, including information about: (1) professional development/training provided by the union and employers; (2) other available training providers including colleges, community colleges, universities, and professional and community organizations; (3) state and local requirements related to professional development, certification, and licensure; and (4) a survey template to be used by the locals to gather data on members' training needs:

RESOLVED, that exploring the latest thinking on the role of unions in society and supporting innovative programs and models, such as union learning representatives is in the finest tradition of the AFT; and

RESOLVED, that because the union learning agenda presents an opportunity for the AFT both to better meet the needs of its members and to expand educational services to workers, the AFT will seek to obtain legislative, public, employer, and other funding supports that will assist unions that wish to launch learning representative programs; and

RESOLVED, that adopting this program helps the AFT place learning and high-quality, resource-based, job-embedded and ongoing professional development into the mainstream of union life to help our members meet the educational and workplace challenges of the 21st century; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT will serve as a resource and guide to the three pilot sites and, in partnership with the affiliates involved in the pilots, will work to (1) develop a model training program for union learning reps; and (2) facilitate sharing and program evaluation, first across pilot sites and, later, with other interested affiliates.